A headstone, pushed off its base by vandals, lays on the ground near a smashed tomb in the Mount Carmel Cemetery on Feb. 27. Photo by Tom Mihalek/Reuters

Muslim veterans offer to guard Jewish sites across US


Following the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and the vandalism of two Jewish cemeteries, some Muslims on Twitter are offering to help guard Jewish sites.

The tweeters, including some veterans, said they would volunteer to protect JCCs, cemeteries and synagogues, the Huffington Post first reported.

This latest show of solidarity comes after an online fundraising campaign started by two Muslims — and touted by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — raised more than $150,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis last week. Some 170 gravestones were toppled at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City, Missouri.

One of the founders of the campaign, Linda Sarsour, is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and a harsh critic of Israel.

On Monday, a Muslim man who started an online fundraising campaign for a Florida mosque damaged in an arson attempt said that many of the donors to the campaign, which raised $60,000, were Jewish.

“I couldn’t understand why people were donating in what seemed like weird amounts to the cause. There are sums of 18, 36, 72.00 dollars etc. then I figured out after clicking on the names Avi, Cohen, Gold-stein, Rubin, Fisher…. Jews donate in multiples of 18 as a form of what is called ‘Chai’. It wishes the recipient a long life,” Adeel Karim, a member of the Islamic Society of New Tampa wrote Monday in a Facebook post. “The Jewish faith has shown up in force to support our New Tampa Islamic community. I’m floored.”

Over the past two months, nearly 90 bomb threats have been called into 72 Jewish institutions in 30 states and one Canadian province. A Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was also vandalized.

President Donald Trump condemned the anti-Semitic threats on Tuesday night in his first speech to a joint session of Congress.

To the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture: Keep our troops fed


This testimony was presented to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition on Jan. 12 

Distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Committee on Agriculture, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.

I am president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the U.S. and Israel. 

In response to learning that a startling number of our grantee partners were providing food assistance to a growing number of military families and veterans, MAZON’s board of directors has made these issues a core priority for our education and advocacy work.  Through an exhaustive search for accurate data from government and private sources, we learned the following:

First, we found that hundreds of thousands of veterans are experiencing food insecurity, and aren’t receiving assistance from their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or other available benefit programs. 

Food insecurity among veterans — old and young — is nearly double the prevalence of food insecurity and very low food security among the general U.S. population. 

Second, we also uncovered serious indicators of food insecurity among members of the military who currently serve. 

The causes? Low pay among lower-ranking enlistees, high unemployment among spouses, larger household sizes, challenges around activation and deployment, and unexpected financial emergencies. 

How do we know this? In addition to reports from our colleagues’ operating food pantries, MAZON learned from a source at the Pentagon that there are food pantries operating on or near every single naval and Marine base in the United States. There can be no denying that food insecurity among military families is a painful reality.  

There are three important actions that we urge Congress to take now to begin addressing this growing problem:

Demand more data. Despite strong anecdotal evidence, food insecurity among military families is not adequately documented or monitored by government agencies. What data we have been able to secure are often contradictory, out of date or simply incomprehensible.

No one really knows the military and veteran participation numbers for government nutrition programs, let alone estimates for the true level of need in these populations. Accurate data is essential if our nation is to better understand the scope of food insecurity among military families and allow us to find the gaps and provide meaningful solutions.

Make no mistake: If even one military family goes without adequate, nutritious food, this nation is not meeting its responsibility to those who serve our country.  

But data alone is not the answer.

Congress must act to remove policy barriers. Federal policies are actually denying struggling military families the resources they need to prevent food insecurity.

Including military members’ Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as income when determining eligibility for SNAP is not only inconsistent with the treatment of BAH by other federal programs, it has made thousands of struggling families ineligible for vital SNAP benefits. In order to survive, they are turning to food pantries on and off military bases.

The BAH is excluded as income for the purposes of calculating income taxes and eligibility for Women, Infants and Children and Head Start programs. The BAH should be consistently excluded as income for the purposes of determining eligibility for all nutrition assistance programs. 

We urge agency collaboration. For veterans, this is not only essential; it is becoming a matter of life and death. A growing number of veterans — particularly disabled veterans — are caught in the middle of bureaucratic delays and federal agency silos, unaware of or unable to access nutrition assistance benefits despite their obvious need.

For veterans awaiting a disability determination, delays and multiple appeals are commonplace, with the process lasting almost a year in some communities. During this time, these men and women are unable to access nutrition assistance benefits and have literally nothing to eat.

What can we do? We can start by ensuring that the government agencies charged with caring for these people actually communicate with each other — VA social workers can use a simple food-insecurity screening tool and refer those who screen positive to resources that support access to adequate, healthy food, including SNAP. 

Perhaps the best way to prevent hunger among veterans is to protect and strengthen the SNAP program.  Right now, an estimated 60,000 veterans face the loss of SNAP benefits because of the expiration of the time limit waiver for people classified as able-bodied adults without dependents, known as ABAWDs. Cuts to SNAP hurt millions of Americans, including, military families and veterans.

This reality of limited data, unfair policy barriers and bureaucratic silos comes at a time when the need among military families and veterans has never been greater. 

The principle of leaving no one behind is deeply embedded in the ethos of the United States military. Unless Congress acts now, we are surely leaving these families behind and in the enemy hands of hunger and poverty.    

If not now, when? If not you, then who?

MAZON welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress to create lasting and meaningful change to meet the needs of our military and veterans’ families. Thank you.

Abby J. Leibman is president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. 

Letters to the editor: Climate change, veterans, SJP and more


A Climactic Discussion

It is essential that the Jewish community play a leading role in efforts to avert a climate catastrophe (“Judaism in the Time of Climate change,” June 6). The scientific consensus that we may be on the brink of a tipping point when climate change will spin out of control, with disastrous consequences, is overwhelming.

For the first time in human history atmospheric CO2 levels have passed 400 parts per million (ppm), well beyond the 350 ppm that climate experts feel is a safe threshold.

Richard Schwartz via jewishjournal.com


More Thoughts on Student Groups

These anti-Israel tactics on campus are almost 50 years old (“Battleground California,” May 30). The only difference between the 1960s and now is that Israel is stronger and more capable of defending herself. So, if that’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s goal, more power to them.

Dumisani Washington via jewishjournal.com

Let these people organize their own free tours of Palestine. They are disgruntled because Israel has done what they can’t and they have to take one more drubbing in the eternal PR and propaganda wars. This ain’t sore losers, it’s sore non-competitors. These students should have told their accusers to get lost. There is no advantage to legitimating that which is illegitimate in the first place, and there is no reason to give these people a larger platform.

Stacy Fernandez via jewishjournal.com

As a graduate of UCLA, I wholeheartedly endorse the efforts of the Students for Justice in Palestine on my old campus and every college campus across the country to get those institutions to pass resolutions calling for divestment from Israel and any company doing business with Israel as well as prohibiting school officers to take all-expense paid trips to Israel courtesy of one Israel lobbying organization or another.

The handwriting is on the wall. UCLA’s Jewish students would be well advised to read it.

Jeff Blankfort via jewishjournal.com


Debating Palestinian Demographics

Bravo to David Suissa on his exposure of J Street’s anti-Israel campaign, to which student Sage Lachman takes issue (Letters, May 30).

Lachman writes that it takes leaders who are courageous enough to make compromises necessary to make peace. Where was she when P.M. Netanyahu offered, repeatedly, to sit down with the Palestinians who continue to refuse to recognize the Jewish state and seek its destruction?

Lachman repeats the canard that without a two-state solution Israel cannot remain a Jewish homeland and still be a democracy. Who says so? She offers no facts or statistics. The usual reason cited is demographic: that although the population split currently is 75 percent Jewish, 20.7 percent Arab, and 4.2 percent others (Jewish Virtual Library, May 2014), in a short time Arabs would be the majority west of the Jordan River. The American-Israeli Demographic Research Group showed that the Palestinian data inflated the Arab population by an enormous 50 percent.

Furthermore, the myth that the Palestinians have higher population growth and fertility rates than the Jews is not borne out by recent data. Israeli Jews now have a higher fertility rate (3.04 children per woman) than the Arabs of Judea and Samaria (2.91). And, Israel’s immigration rate is high and rising, while Palestinian emigration rates have skyrocketed over the past decade (Caroline B. Glick, “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East,” 2014).

C.P. Lefkowitz Rancho Palos Verdes 


True Roots of Anti-Semitism

Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman’s op-ed article (European Jewry Battered by Soaring Anti-Semitism, June 6) fails to mention the root cause of difficulties for Jews living in Europe. For 2,000 years they were depicted as the son of the god of perfidy. The dictionary defines perfidy as treachery, faithlessness, deceitfulness and distrustfulness.

This charge was codified into the most sacred liturgy of the holy day of Good Friday, when the faithful recited the charge of the perfidious Jew. Such an emotionally charged accusation cannot be removed overnight or even in the 50 years since it was [removed from the liturgy]. It will take generations before Jews living in Europe will enjoy the same level of tolerance and respect their counterparts enjoy in the United States, where they are protected by the Constitution and its amendments. 

Norman Lerner via jewishjournal.com


Vouching for Veterans

The fix to this problem has been there for years: give vouchers for private medical help to vets who are told to wait longer than a few weeks (“Anatomy of a Scandal,” May 30). People from both parties have suggested this — but still no action. Maybe it’s better for some to keep this a “scandal” than to fix it.

Ken Lautman Los Angeles

Reflections on the first mourner’s daddish in honor of Memorial Day


Kaddish – The origins of this most famous Jewish prayer are shrouded in history.  Most agree that it began with the central words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” or “May God’s Name be praised now and forever.” One source suggests that the Kaddish was originally recited at the conclusion of a learning session in the study halls of ancient Israel.  After engaging in the sacred task of study, these words were recited to show honor and reverence for the learning and to pay respect to the teacher. 

One legend originates the Kaddish as a memorial prayer when the great teacher of his generation died and his students carried him from the Beit Midrash to the grave. There they recited the words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” to express their profound sadness and gratitude.  It is to say that the greatness of God’s Name is borne out of a teacher’s influence.  Anytime we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish; the words are manifest not only in sadness, but in appreciation for a shared wisdom.     

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to introduce you to my newest teacher, US Army Veteran SSGT Stephen E. Sherman.  At 92 years old, Stephen is one of the few living African American serviceman.  He now dedicates his time helping homeless veterans.  We met waiting in a line one morning, and in the midst of light conversation, he drew closer, looked me deeply in the eyes and shared, “I have seen what your people went through when I was in the war.  I was there when they liberated a camp in western Germany.  I will never forget the look on those people’s faces when we told them they were free.”  It was a powerful and brief moment that honestly took me aback.  We shared an understanding from an intensely significant time in his life of the burden and responsibility of memory.  Searching for a response, I returned with words of gratitude for him and his service to our country.  Our chance encounter changed the outlook of my day, and now, even several weeks later, my appreciation for the power memory holds in binding the living together.  

This man, who so proudly served his country in World War II, is spending the twilight years of his life serving those who survive. For that he is an inspiration.  But he became my teacher when he reminded me that when we are carriers of memory and respect between us; we too lived out these words, “Y’hei Sh’mei Rabbah Mevorach L’Olam u’l’Almei Almaya,” God’s great Name is praised when we recognized the collective responsibility to remember.

On Memorial Day we will take moments to activate the memory for those who fought to preserve and protect our ideals.   On Memorial Day, we are reminded just how important it is to remember the bravery and heroism of those who gave their lives to defend our freedom as Americans and as Jews.  And more than words of honor and reverence, on Memorial Day the Mourner’s Kaddish should be recited for them too.  Kaddish breathes meaning into the words we wish to express in gratitude for a lesson learned.

For me, SSGT Sherman gave life and being to the countless men and women who died in service this country.  Our shared moment opened up worlds of meaning to connect the Memorial Day of this country with the memorial days of the Jewish lifecycle and calendar.  It is precisely those worlds of meaning that make God’s Name great now and forever.

Hope for injured IDF veterans


An officer in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Paratrooper Brigade, Arale Wattenstein was injured during a 2005 operation in the West Bank. The vehicle he was traveling in was going about 50 mph when it was struck by a Molotov cocktail. Wattenstein jumped out when the vehicle caught fire, breaking his spine in three places.

Wattenstein, 29, told his story to a crowd gathered at a Brentwood home on Nov. 14. When he got to the part about his injury, the crowd gasped.

“No, it’s OK,” he said. “I’m great now.”

Wattenstein said he owes much of his recovery to Hope for Heroism (HFH), an Israel-based nonprofit that provides care for Israeli soldiers wounded in combat. Wattenstein spoke as part of an HFH-sponsored visit.

Wounded Israeli soldiers, like wounded soldiers everywhere, have difficulty re-entering society, and HFH encourages soldiers to help other soldiers. By participating in HFH programs, injured soldiers become inspirational leaders, who in turn help other soldiers with recent injuries.

Since its inception in 2008, the organization has served more than 300 soldiers.

HFH’s goals include providing financial aid to wounded soldiers, mentoring, a vocational program to help soldiers start businesses and outreach to the Diaspora.

Ten Israeli soldiers visited Los Angeles Nov. 11-19. Trips like this one allow the soldiers to bond with one another, to form relationships with their Jewish-American host families and to sightsee. Since 2007, delegations have visited New York, New Jersey, Seattle, London, Cape Town and Paris.

“The main purpose is for the soldiers to get a chance to get away from their daily routine of rehabilitation and bond with each other and these families,” said Rabbi Chaim Levine, executive director and co-founder of HFH. 

HFH members visit newly injured soldiers while they’re still recuperating in the hospital; they also visit with them in cities when they are trying to reintegrate. 

In addition, HFH provides a sports program, a music project, English tutoring, and a support group for soldiers’ spouses and fiancés.

Playing together in sports and collaborating on soldier-initiated arts projects often helps soldiers open up to each other, which aids in the healing process. The soldiers have been through traumatic experiences and often feel that they can only relate to other wounded soldiers.

“No one around me understood me. Not even my closest friends, my family,” said Barak Miron, a former combat medic who was injured during a rescue mission in Lebanon in 1999 and joined HFH only nine months ago.

HFH initially held events in living rooms, at the beach and in rented facilities, but opened its own center, Beit Achim (Hebrew for “House of Brothers”), in Hod HaSharon in 2010. Run by HFH members, the house is a cooperative that features group and individual therapy, tutoring and soldier-initiated projects.

Roy Grylak, another of the soldiers in the L.A. delegation, was shot fives times during the second Lebanon War — in his right leg, right arm, jaw and back. Grilak continues to suffer from nerve damage in his leg. He drops by the HFH center for meals, to rest, to watch TV, swim and even to get massages.

“When I have free time from my studies, I come,” Grylak, 27, said.

HFH was inspired by a trip Levine took to Israel in 2006, during the second Lebanon War. Formerly a director of Jewish organizations in Boston, Toronto and Seattle, Levine traveled to Israel to see how he could help. There, he met Gil Ganonyan, a former team commander in the IDF, who had been wounded in 2004 during operational activity in Bethlehem. As a member of an elite unit, Ganonyan was shot in the neck when he was sent to catch a senior Hamas terrorist. 

Visiting Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, Levine watched as Ganonyan, who had been injured only two years earlier, went from hospital bed to hospital bed, reaching out to newly injured soldiers.

A bond developed between Levine and Ganonyan. In 2007, a delegation of soldiers wounded during the second Lebanon War traveled to Seattle, where Levine was living. When the soldiers returned to Israel, Ganonyan and an additional injured IDF officer, Yaniv Leidner, continued reaching out to injured soldiers. This became the two-fold model of the organization: delegations of injured soldiers sent abroad for brief rehabilitative vacations and soldier-to-soldier mentoring back in Israel. The organization registered as a nonprofit in 2008.

Whether their injuries are physical or emotional, any wounded soldier is eligible to join HFH. Currently, the organization is growing at a rate of approximately five soldiers per month, said Levine, who help runs the organization from Seattle. He also officiates many HFH members’ weddings.

Shlomo Lev, one of the participants in the L.A. delegation, didn’t want to discuss how he was injured. Tall, lanky and wearing glasses, Lev said he prefers not to think about it.

But Lev, 31, is happy to talk about how HFH has changed his life. After his injury, he thought life was over and that he wouldn’t make it to the age of 30. HFH gave him the tools to believe in himself. Today, he is studying for a law degree at an Israeli university.

On Nov. 13, the Los Angeles delegation of wounded soldiers gathered at the Malibu Pier. Standing on boulders that overlooked the beach, they took photographs while they chanted the melody of “Seven Nation Army,” a popular song by American band the White Stripes.

Afterward, they headed to the ocean for a surfing lesson under the instruction of Operation Surf, a surfing clinic for wounded and activity-duty military personnel. Members of Shalhevet High School’s surfing club also showed up with snacks and water and cheered the soldiers on.

Between a Lakers game, Universal Studios, Hollywood nightclubs, Venice Beach and Herzog Winery, the group’s week in Los Angeles was jam-packed with some of the best the city has to offer.

But the highlight was the car rides with the other soldiers, Lev said. The time spent traveling with the soldiers and getting to know everyone was his favorite part. Everything else was “a bonus,” he said.

One of five L.A. families to host the delegation — each family hosted two soldiers — the Glaser family was interested in seeing how their adopted soldiers would interact with their own children, particularly their 14-year-old son, whose exposure to war is limited to the “Call of Duty” video game, said Jon Glaser, his father.

“I wanted my kids to get an understanding of what the realities of war are about and also have an understanding, a better understanding, of Israel and the sacrifices that are required by service by all Israelis to the military,” said Glaser, a Brentwood resident who works at an investment management firm.

The host families’ children and the soldiers appeared to hit it off. At the Glasers’ home on the night of Nov. 14, where a reception took place that was attended by all of the soldiers, the host families and friends of the host families, the soldiers were horsing around with several of the American-Jewish children as if they were their own younger brothers.

After dinner at the Glasers’ home, the group of Israeli soldiers came together for a photograph. They called the sons of the host families to come over and join the picture. As had been their habit throughout the trip, the soldiers started chanting the White Stripes song. One of the host family’s sons took out his iPhone and began playing the song.

And as “Seven Nation Army” played, the soldiers and sons sang together.

Veteran generals address day school students


“Judaism, the Jewish religion and the history of the Jewish people are steeped in values,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Fridovich, who also served in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret. Addressing a crowd of elementary and middle school students from Sinai Akiba Academy and Brawerman Elementary School, Fridovich explained how Jewish values helped him succeed in the armed forces. 

“Giving everything” of yourself is fundamental to thriving in the Army — and to Judaism, Fridovich added.

Fridovich spoke at Sinai Temple on Nov. 5 in advance of Veterans Day, which falls on Nov. 12. Retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, a Holocaust survivor, also participated in a panel discussion introducing the students to Jewish American heroes as well as spotlighting American patriotism and the armed forces.

More than 350 fourth- through eighth-graders from Sinai Akiba and fourth- through sixth-graders from Brawerman Elementary attended. Sarah Shulkind, head of school at Sinai Akiba, moderated the discussion. The panelists also took questions from the students. 

Attendees included Elliott Broidy, a Los Angeles businessman and Israel benefactor; Lenny Sands, chairman of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Western region; and Jeffrey Gunter, a parent alumnus of Sinai Akiba who helped organize the event. 

Fridovich and Shachnow drew on their vast experience in service during the discussion.

Fridovich currently serves as director for defense and strategies at Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a nonprofit that advocates for a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel. Shachnow is on JINSA’s board of advisers.

Shachnow, 78, was born in Lithuania and was imprisoned for three years in a concentration camp during World War II. In 1950, he immigrated to the United States and enlisted in the Army. 

A highlight of his military career was serving as a commanding general in Berlin — “what used to be the Nazi capital,” Shachnow said.

“I don’t think it ever occurred to them [the Nazis] that a Jew would be there doing [that],” Shachnow said.

During his long career, Fridovich commanded Special Forces units and counterterrorism forces throughout the world. The scariest thing he has done lately: Speaking in front a crowd of 13- and 14-year-olds, he said.

In Ohio, GOP pins Senate hopes on young Jewish Iraq vet


As the 2012 campaign heats up in Ohio, Republicans are pinning their hopes on a young Jewish military veteran to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Josh Mandel, a 34-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the current state treasurer, has faced a number of challenges but he is doing well in the polls. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed Mandel only four points behind Brown—a favorite of organized labor and liberals—in a hypothetical match-up.

With Ohio seen as a key presidential swing state and control of the U.S. Senate potentially in play, the race is the focus of national attention from Democrats and Republicans.

“The stakes are really high,” said Joe Hallett, political editor of The Columbus Dispatch. “A lot of what happens in this race will depend on the national climate. The Democrats have twice as many seats to defend in the Senate than the Republicans, and this seat really could determine control of the Senate.”

Mandel, facing five lesser-known candidates in the March 6 Republican primary, is considered the front-runner for the nomination.

After serving three years as a city councilman in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst and two terms as a state representative, Mandel was elected in 2010 as state treasurer. He is seen as a GOP rising star.

“I know Josh was actively recruited by top party leaders and insiders to run for this seat,” said Matthew Brooks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director. “It was a process that unfolded over several months, with Josh initially not considering the idea. As the support grew and the calls for him became louder, Josh agreed and then fully committed himself to the race and doing what it took to be the next senator from Ohio come November.”

During Mandel’s tenure as a city councilman and state representative, he served in the Marine Corps Reserve and was called into active duty for two tours in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

Mandel told JTA that he was inspired to serve by his grandfathers.

“I’m the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who was liberated by Allied troops, and I’m the grandson of a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, and these hard-working, gutsy men instilled in me a duty to community and a duty to country,” Mandel said.

While he has served in uniform in the Middle East, he is cautious about making predictions about the region.

Asked whether the Iraq war was a success, he responds, “Time will tell.”

He also said the Arab Spring is “negatively impacting Israel.”

“When terrorist groups are running the countries bordering Israel, it’s not a good situation,” he said. “Time will tell on whether it’s better that Assad will fall.”

Mandel said the United States and its allies face “a common enemy in radical Islam, and it’s an enemy that must be taken seriously.”

One issue on which Mandel differs with Brown is labor policy. Considered a union champion, Brown is outspoken on labor issues.

With Republicans pushing to limit the powers of unions, labor issues have been the subject of acrimonious fights in Ohio and other Midwestern states over the past couple years. In Ohio, the issue heated up in 2011 when Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, sought unsuccessfully to pass a law weakening the bargaining rights of public employees.

Another labor battleground has been so-called right-to-work laws, which prohibit requiring workers to join a union as a condition of employment at a unionized workplace. Neighboring Indiana’s Republican-controlled state legislature recently adopted such a law, and a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 54 percent of Ohio voters would support a similar law, with 40 percent opposed.

“I believe American citizens should have the right to join a union if they’d like to do that, but they should not be coerced and forced to join. It should be up to the individual,” Mandel said.

On the economic front, Mandel points to his short tenure in the treasurer’s office.

“I think we’re running the most efficient and effective state treasurer’s office in America,” he said.

Mandel highlighted the AAA rating that Standard and Poor’s awarded the state’s $4 billion local governments investment fund that he runs at a time when S&P downgraded 14 similar funds across the country.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats don’t portray Mandel’s record in as positive a light.

“He’s been silent on issues that are most important to Ohioans, whether it’s the Republican budget that would destroy Medicare or China’s currency manipulation, which cost us jobs in Ohio,” said Justin Barasky, the new communications director for Brown’s Senate campaign.

Democrats also have taken aim at Mandel on his campaign finances and job performance.

Two weeks ago, the Ohio Democratic Party filed a formal complaint against Mandel to the Federal Election Commission for using money from his 2010 treasurer campaign to assist in launching his U.S. Senate drive. Ohio law prohibits candidates from using state campaign funds for a federal campaign.

In late January, the Associated Press reported that Mandel did not attend a single Board of Deposit meeting during his first year in office and that he was in Washington for a fundraiser during the January meeting. Mandel also did not attend the board’s February meeting.

Asked by the Toledo Blade about Mandel’s absence, Seth Unger, press secretary for the Ohio Treasurer’s office, said that “the Treasurer directs and empowers his staff of financial professionals who represent him on the Board of Deposit, and has full confidence in his Chief Financial Officer who serves as his designee.”

Last October, Mandel was criticized for receiving a donation of $1,000 from former congressional candidate Rich Iott, who dressed up as an SS officer as part of a group that re-enacted the exploits of a Nazi division during World War II. Iott has insisted that he had no Nazi sympathies.

At the time, the National Jewish Democratic Council demanded that Mandel return Iott’s money. Travis Considine, communications director for the Mandel campaign, responded that “this is a manufactured non-issue to distract from the fact that Sherrod Brown’s radical policies have caused hundreds of thousands of jobs to leave Ohio.”

While Mandel has never served in federal office, his supporters tout his record on Israel. In 2007, as a state representative, Mandel introduced legislation that would divest Ohio pensions from companies that do business with Iran. The Ohio House eventually passed a more modest piece of legislation on the issue.

Brown for his part has faced criticism for not signing on to various Senate letters supported by pro-Israel groups. Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC, said that “the pro-Israel constituency in his state would like to see Brown more active and more of an advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship. I hope he grows into that role.”

Chouake said NORPAC was not endorsing a candidate in the race. He said the organization was “not against Sherrod Brown, but his record is substantially mixed, so we classified this as a race where our members could do fundraisers for either candidate. NORPAC is not contributing from its general fund to these races, but we will meet and work with both candidates depending on the membership’s motivation to do so.”

NORPAC members held a Mandel fundraiser on Sunday, while the political action committee of J Street is raising money online for Brown. Brown is the only incumbent senator that the J Street PAC is raising money for in this election cycle.

Mandel said that Brown is “not a friend” of Israel, pointing to the senator’s voting record and his endorsement by J Street. But Barasky said that Brown has “a very strong record of standing with Israel.”

“Whether it’s working to eliminate the threat from Iran to ensuring foreign aid to fighting to end our dependence on foreign oil, Sherrod is a friend to Israel,” Barasky said.

Brown has been speaking out recently on issues important to the pro-Israel community. Last year he said he disagreed with President Obama’s suggestion that the pre-1967 lines should serve as the basis for negotiations over borders with the Palestinians. In September, Brown denounced Palestinian efforts to unilaterally seek statehood recognition at the United Nations.

Mandel’s supporters think the Iraq vet will pose a formidable challenge to the incumbent senator.

During his election to a second term in the state house, Mandel captured 72 percent of the vote in a district that includes a sizable Jewish population, which at the time had registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.

“He epitomizes the values of the Jewish community and is someone who has demonstrated an ability to go beyond their base of support in the Republican side and be attractive to Jewish Democrats and Independents,” the RJC’s Brooks said.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Hallett said that Mandel’s fundraising efforts could make this “a close race.”

“You’d have to give the nod going in to the incumbent, but Mandel is not somebody you count out. He is one of the best fundraisers I’ve ever seen,” Hallett said. “He’s relentless on that score and he will have the resources to win this seat, but so will Brown. I think it’s going to be close, and a lot of it will depend on the national outlook.”

This article was produced in cooperation with The Washington Jewish Week.

L.A. Jewish foundation helping war vets


The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles awarded some $200,000 in grants for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and financial literacy programs.

The grants announced Tuesday, to 11 Los Angeles community-based organizations, will help ease the transition of the veterans back into society and promote financial literacy for women, youth and immigrants.

Among the recipients are Adopt-A-College, a program of The Soldiers Project; Military Families Programs, operated by ZERO TO THREE; Listos (We’re Ready), a program of Centro Latino for Literacy; California Council on Economic Education (CCEE), MoneyWise Teen; and New Directions, Inc., Operation Welcome Home.

“With tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home, The Foundation believed it was vitally important to focus several of our General Community Grants on alleviating the difficulties so many of these dedicated soldiers face in reintegrating into society, including finding employment and re-establishing relationships with their spouses and children,” Marvin I. Schotland, the foundation’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Another focal point, and one just as timely, is our support of financial literacy programs for homeless teens, immigrants and others who have been increasingly challenged during the economic downturn.”

Belmont Village honors World War II vets with photo exhibition


Belmont Village Senior Living’s Westwood center paid homage to the sacrifices of its Jewish World War II veterans on Nov. 9 with the opening of the permanent photo exhibition, “American Heroes: Portraits of Service,” featuring 37 portraits, mostly of Jewish veterans, accompanied by a brief biography or quote about the subject’s war experience.

Photographer Thomas Sanders, 27, has spent the past three years traveling across the country capturing the images and stories of war veterans at Belmont locations in the Midwest and Southeast as well as along the West Coast. Commissioned by Belmont Village, Sanders’ photos capture veterans posing with memorabilia from their service during World War II.

“Having [the veterans] hold a specific piece of memorabilia helps tell their story, and helps make the images more nostalgic and comfortable,” said Sanders, whose project also led to the 2010 book, “The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II.”

Among the notable Jewish veterans photographed by Sanders was longtime broadcaster and documentarian Perry Wolff, whose work with Walter Cronkite earned 15 Emmy and 14 Peabody awards throughout a 54-year career.

Wolff spoke of his military service as a Jewish soldier. “I opened one of the camps, and up until that moment I didn’t know what we were fighting for, but [when the gates opened] I found what we were fighting against,” he said.

Wolff read aloud from his 1952 World War II-themed novel, “Attack,” and spoke about the irony of liberating European Jewry while simultaneously feeling ostracized for the capital H, for Hebrew, on his dog tags.

Among the speakers at the exhibition’s opening was former 1st Lt. Louis Zuckerman, 90, a Chicago native who served with the Army Corps of Engineers. He recounted one encounter with a group of Nazi POWs reluctant to perform manual labor.

“I am a big Jew from Chicago, a personal friend of Al Capone,” he recalled telling the POWs, “and if you don’t move those logs, I will start firing.”

Appeals court orders review of war memorial cross


An appeals court ordered further proceedings on a Jewish veterans group’s challenge to the display of a cross at a San Diego veterans’ memorial, saying it was unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the cross on Mount Soledad was a “government endorsement of religion.”

The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, backed by a number of Jewish and civil liberties groups, filed the appeal a year ago after a U.S. district court ruled that the cross was not unconstitutional because it “communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice.”

The appeals court said the district court must consider ways to reconfigure the site so that it can “pass constitutional muster,” The Los Angeles Times reported.

Be careful what you ask for


“The Secret” is on everybody’s lips. Oprah, Ellen, Larry. Who am I, then, to say it’s drivel? *

So I put the Law of Attraction to a test. Actually, I did this unknowingly, years ago, well before The Secret was a ka-ching in Rhonda Byrne’s metaphysical cash register.

I volunteered for Big Sunday, an annual citywide day in May of community service, a chance to put tikkun olam into practice. Big Sunday makes you feel good, earns you a colorful T-shirt, and is an excellent way to meet men.

Sure, working at battered women’s shelters or knitting booties for preemies might sound appealing, but … well … as long as I was volunteering … why not do something more male-friendly?

My proclamation to the Universe: I will meet single, hetero men. I found a downright macho project, helping to clean a stretch of the L.A. River. Surely the universe was listening.

And the Law of Attraction worked! The Universe did provide. Men, that is. Dozens and dozens of men. Little men. Cub Scouts. Adorable, hard-working, young. Not one of these Cub Scouts (nor their very married troop-leader fathers, wedding rings glinting in the sun) was my beshert.

My Stated Desire was simply not specific enough. When you send a thought into the universe, be precise. I’d give the universe another chance.

“I will meet an age-appropriate single hetero man of wit and intelligence,” I declared.

And this year the universe provided! Rick appeared. Good looking. My age exactly. Lean, muscular, a terrific smile. Articulate. Definitely hetero. And covered with prison tattoos, homeless, a junkie on parole for murder.

Is “living by your wits” the same thing as “witty”?

My Big Sunday assignment: interview a homeless person and write a biography; what did I expect? Organizer Katherine Butts Warwick offered a chance to “put a human face on homelessness.” She told us that, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly one-third of homeless adults have served in the Armed Forces. On any given day, as many as 200,000 veterans (male and female) live on the streets or in shelters, and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. There are now more homeless Vietnam veterans than Vietnam dead. I was shocked.

Rick wasn’t a vet — in fact, though he had desperately wanted to serve in the Armed Forces, his record of violence, gangs and prison prevented him from ever being accepted as a soldier. Rick spent 19 of his 50 years in prison. He now dreams of getting his GED, entering detox, having a permanent roof over his head and landing an office job (he learned to type in prison).

But Rick is upset at the lack of support he’s gotten after so many years behind bars.

“When you get out on parole, they don’t help you at all. They throw you out on Skid Row. What society fails to understand,” he says, “is that the system gives us a two- or three-year sentence, maybe 10, but, sooner or later, we’re going to come back. They think, OK, he’s put away, we’re safe,’ but they’re forgetting that the same person is going to come out again — without receiving any kind of social help, any kind of psychiatric help. It’s dangerous.”

Dangerous for Rick. Dangerous for society. Eye-opening for me.

I was looking for a date, a relationship. Instead, Rick made me grateful for the roof over my head and the support system of friends and family that I have in my life. Next year, I’ll be more specific still with the universe. In the meantime, I’ve learned that spending time volunteering fills up a spare evening and makes me feel better about myself than playing the dating game, L.A.-style. And tikkun olam trumps “The Secret” any day of the week.


Diane Saltzberg lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at dlsaltzberg@gmail.com


* Editor's note: If "The Secret" isn't drivel, we sure got it wrong in this cover story by Amy Klein!


Radio DJ Jimmy Kay brings folksy charm to folkie L.A


A radio DJ might not be your idea of an innovative storyteller, but who can’t relate to the desire to inflict your own personal interests onto the greater Los Angeles listening public? DJ Jimmy Kay does just this every Sunday night from 9 p.m. to midnight on KKGO 1260AM, where he hosts the program “Sunday Night Folk.”

He can play whatever music suits his fancy, but he doesn’t play the music just for his own fanciful whims. He secretly hopes that the historical significance of the events described in the lyrics will touch the listening audience as much as the haunting melodies that weave through the songs.

On Nov. 12, Kay will host a musical salute to American Veterans in honor of Veterans Day. It will feature music from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World Wars I and II, Vietnam and Iraq. It will also include a 10-song segment about the continuing battle against fascism that exists in the world today.

Jimmy Kay was born James Kalmenson on Oct. 5, 1958, in New Rochelle, N.Y., to two Jewish parents, Lilli and Howard Kalmenson. In 1962, the Kalmenson family moved to Tarzana, when his father purchased the Spanish-language radio station KWKW.

“I was bar mitzvahed at 13; my speech discussed pollution and ecology,” Kay remembers. “My upbringing was not overtly religious; we did observe all the major holidays, and during my pre-teen years we performed the rituals for the Sabbath.”

Celebrating the holidays was of great importance to Kay’s mother, whose own family had escaped from Germany in 1938.

Kay’s interest in folk music stemmed from watching the images of Vietnam on television and being exposed to music from the ’60s, Kay recalls. “I loved to sing songs around the campfire every summer when I went to River Way Ranch Camp.”

Probably the most influential element for Kay was seeing the movie, “Bound for Glory,” which exposed him to the life and songs of Woody Guthrie.

Next April, “Sunday Night Folk” will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Over the years it has expanded from one hour to three per week; it’s acquired more financial sponsorships; and, most importantly, it’s gained a wider audience.

Kay offers, “the music is definitely folk; however, we aren’t afraid to cross the boundaries into other genres in order to compliment a thematic moment. We play classic country from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. We enjoy political satirists like L.A. songwriter Ross Altman. Sing-a-long campfire songs and children’s tunes can be worked in once in awhile as well as a dramatic set of love songs here and there.

“We also like to tip our hats to veterans and focus on anthems of political protest as well as spinning patriotic feel-good songs. Jewish-themed songs, Latino-themed songs, ditties about taxes, dogs, trains, farm animals … you name it, we’ve played it. If I have one rule, it would be that we never play anything which is getting heavy airplay anywhere else; I love to introduce undiscovered singer-songwriters on a segment called, ‘Sunday Night Folk Discoveries.'”

Kay and producer Jeffrey Schwartz (known on air as Jimmy Smart) also commit the most bizarre sin possible by music business standards — they take musical submissions from anyone and they listen to every single CD that they receive. Hearing all this, you start to wonder what Jimmy Kay’s music library must look like. When does he have time to catalogue everything? Especially when you find out that the station his father bought in 1962 is now considered the No. 1 AM Spanish-language station in the country, so boasts its current president, Jimmy Kay.

It’s really no surprise that Kay would end up being a champion for the “underground” folk circuit, because he believes that folk music has always dealt with the “down-trodden.” Kay adds, “my Jewish education always emphasized caring for the less fortunate. I feel a great joy sharing songs that make people really think about the human condition. I love to play music which reminds people of their childhood memories and to expose them to ideas which they may not have ever even considered before.”

According to Kay’s philosophy, the road to freedom is taken not only one step, but one lyric at a time.

Americans fighters in Israel get overdue thank you


Grandfathers and grandmothers looked at the photos on the wall and saw themselves again as young, strapping soldiers, sailors and pilots, far from home andclose to the face of history.
 
They were the American and Canadian volunteers who had fought in Israel’s War of Independence in 1947-1949 and manned the “illegal” Aliyah Bet ships carrying refugees to the Jewish state.
 
The veterans, their bodies aged but memories undimmed, brought their children and grandchildren to the University of Judaism last Sunday to inaugurate the first permanent West Coast exhibit to honor their services.
 
Film producer Lou Lenart and attorney Mitchell Flint marveled at the silhouettes of patched-up Mustangs and Messerschmitts from which they “bombed” Egyptian armies advancing on Tel Aviv with hand grenades lobbed out of their cockpits.Norman Zimmerman of Sun City, Ariz., and I saw again the jam-packed refugee ship Pan York, which had brought us from Marseilles to Haifa, despite a United Nations ban on the entry of men of military age.
 
The exhibit consists of cabinets framing eight large and eight small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the display documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition, recruitment of volunteers, Aliyah Bet and navy service and Machal (the Hebrew acronym for Volunteers from Abroad) service in the Israel Defense Forces.
 
One of the panels commemorates the 40 North Americans, among them seven Christians, who were killed in action. Another focuses on the specific contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, as well as of those who risked prison by smuggling desperately needed arms and aircraft to the embattled state.
 
The dedication program was exemplary in the brevity of its speeches, and the high spirits of the songs from the 1948 and 1967 wars, presented by vocalist Ayana Haviv and pianist Amir Efrat.
 
UJ President Robert Wexler welcomed the audience of 200 and said that the exhibit will remind future generations of the linked destiny between Israel and American Jewry.
 
Yaron Gamburg, Israel’s deputy consul general in Los Angeles, noted that the Machal spirit of 1948 was revived during the recent fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon, when his office was swamped with calls from volunteers seeking to help Israel.
 
Max Barchichat, president of the Los Angeles-based Machal West, lauded the service of his fellow volunteers by paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force that “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”Keynote speaker was Dean Ralph Lowenstein, director of the Machal Archives and Museum at the University of Florida, who created the original exhibit at his university’s Hillel House, with the support of the New York-based American Veterans of Israel.
 
He paid tribute to Jason Fenton, who initiated the West Coast version of the exhibition, Sharona Benami of Machal West and a Yom Kippur War veteran, and Iris Waskow of the University of Judaism.
 
Some 1,400 North American volunteers, mostly World War II veterans, participated in the War of Independence, and played particularly crucial roles in the nascent Israeli air force and navy, Lowenstein said.
 
A joyous dedication is usually not the time for critical analysis, but as a combat infantryman in World War II, a squad leader in an anti-tank unit in Israel, and an army editor during the Korean conflict, I ask the reader’s indulgence if I step out of my reportorial role.
 
Without diminishing the contributions of the volunteers from abroad and the arms “smugglers,” it must be said, first, that it was the Israelis who won the war itself and paid by far the highest price in military and civilian casualties.
 
Secondly, the role of the American Jewish community was perhaps the least glorious among the 43 nations who provided volunteers,In proportion to the size and power of their Jewish communities, every other English-speaking country sent much larger, and better prepared, contingents than the biggest Jewish community in the world, and it was one of the few to emerge from the war with greater strength than before.
 
The difference lay mainly in the communal attitude and civic courage of the different Diaspora communities. South Africa’s Jews, and Britain’s to a slightly smaller degree, set up their own selective service systems, complete with physical and psychological testing, and rallied fully behind their young men and women heading for the battlefield.
 
By contrast, organized American Jewry, fearful of accusations of double loyalty, generally averted its collective eyes and prayed silently that those crazy kids going over would not prove an embarrassment.
 
Happily, the flip side of this sorry record is that in the last half century, American Jewry has largely left behind the shameful timidity of the 1940s and the Holocaust era. It is my hope that should American Jewry ever face a challenge similar to 1948, we will acquit ourselves with greater honor.

War Hero’s Medal Wait Finally Ends


Next Friday, as Tibor Rubin enters the White House, generals will stand at rigid attention. The president of the United States also will rise and then drape the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for gallantry in combat, around the neck of the 76-year-old Holocaust survivor and Korean War veteran.

Rubin and a legion of supporters have waited almost 55 years for this triumph of camaraderie and persistence over both bureaucratic lethargy and the prejudice endured by so many old-time Jewish GIs.

Rubin still does not know precisely which of his wartime feats met the standard of “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an enemy armed force.”

[READ: TIBOR RUBIN, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, DIES AT 86]

He guesses it might have been the time he secured a route of retreat for his company by single-handedly defending a hill for 24 hours against waves of North Korean soldiers.

All told, his commanding officers and fellow soldiers recommended him for the Medal of Honor for his deeds performed on no less than four occasions. He also was recommended two times for the Distinguished Service Cross and twice for the Silver Star.

Had he received all these awards, he would have become the most decorated American veteran of the Korean War. What he actually got were two Purple Hearts for combat wounds and a 100 percent disability rating.

Rubin, known as “Tibi” to his Hungarian childhood friends and “Ted” to his Army buddies, was born in Paszto, a Hungarian shtetl of 120 Jewish families, the son of a shoemaker and one of six children. At age 13, he was transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was liberated two years later by American troops. His parents and two sisters perished in the Holocaust.

He came to the United States in 1948, settled in New York and worked first as a shoemaker and then as a butcher.

“I was a handsome dog in those days, and the ladies who worked with me always brought me lunch,” he recalled.

In 1949, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army, both as a possible shortcut to American citizenship and, he hoped, to attend the Army's butcher school in Chicago. Knowing hardly any English, he flunked the language test, but tried again in 1950 and passed, with some help from two fellow test takers.

In July of that year, Pfc. Rubin found himself fighting on the front lines of Korea with I Company of the 8th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. There he encountered the terror of I Company: 1st Sgt. Artice V. Watson, who, from numerous descriptions, could have been modeled on the sadistic 1st Sgt. Rickett in Irwin Shaw's “The Young Lions.”

Watson was reputedly a vicious anti-Semite, who consistently “volunteered” Rubin for the most dangerous patrols and missions, according to lengthy affidavits submitted by nearly a dozen men — mostly self-described “country boys” from the South and Midwest.

The bravery displayed by Rubin during such missions so impressed two commanding officers that they recommended him three times for the Medal of Honor. Both officers were soon afterward killed in action, but not before telling Watson to initiate the necessary paperwork to secure the medals for Rubin. Some of the men in Rubin's company were present when Watson was ordered to put in for the medals, and all are convinced that he deliberately ignored the orders.

“I believe in my heart that 1st Sgt. Watson would have jeopardized his own safety rather than assist in any way whatsoever in the awarding of the medal to a person of Jewish descent,” Cpl. Harold Speakman wrote in a notarized affidavit.

Toward the end of October 1950, massive Chinese troop concentrations crossed the border into North Korea and attacked the unprepared Americans. After most of his regiment had been wiped out, the severely wounded Rubin was captured and spent the next 30 months in a prisoner of war camp.

Faced with constant hunger, filth and disease, most of the GIs simply gave up.

“No one wanted to help anyone. Everybody was for himself,” wrote Sgt. Leo A. Cormier Jr., a fellow prisoner.

But not Rubin. Almost every evening, he would sneak out of the camp to steal food from the Chinese and North Korean supply depots, understanding that he would be shot if caught.

“He shared the food evenly among the GIs,” Cormier wrote. “He also took care of us, nursed us, carried us to the latrine…. He did many good deeds, which he told us were 'mitzvahs' in the Jewish tradition…. He was a very religious Jew, and helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him.”

Survivors of the camp credited Rubin with keeping 35 to 40 of their number alive and recommended him for the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.

Cpl. Leonard Hamm of Indiana wrote the Army that Rubin had saved his life, both on the battlefield and in the camp. He went on to upbraid the Pentagon for its “degrading and insulting treatment” of “one of the greatest men I have ever known, and definitely one of the greatest heroes in this nation's history.”

Sgt. Carl McClendon, another soldier saved by Rubin, wrote, “He [Rubin] had more courage, guts and fellowship than I ever knew anyone had. He is the most outstanding man I ever met, with a heart of gold. Tibor Rubin committed every day bravery that boggles the mind. How he ever came home alive is a mystery to me.”

For some 30 years after his discharge, Rubin lived quietly in a small house in Garden Grove, with his wife, Yvonne, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. The couple reared two children, Frank, an Air Force veteran, and a daughter, Rosalyn.

In 1953, Rubin finally got his American citizenship. He tried to resume his old job as a butcher, but a combination of crippling afflictions, traceable to his war wounds, forced him to quit.

It wasn't until the 1980s that Rubin's old Army buddies started protesting the Army's inaction in recognizing the man who had saved so many of their lives.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced a special bill on Rubin's behalf in 1988. Former GOP Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Orange County also pleaded for recognition of his constituent. In addition, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) and former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) kept badgering the Pentagon.

“From his childhood in a Nazi concentration camp to his valor in Korea, Tibor Rubin never wavered in his fight against tyranny and injustice,”Wexler said. “It is unconscionable that the Pentagon overlooked his acts of heroism for more than 50 years.”

The Jewish War Veterans organization has championed Rubin's cause for many years, and at one point, collected 42,000 signatures on a petition presented to President Ronald Reagan.

But nothing appeared to penetrate the bureaucratic indifference.

Then in the mid-90s, the U.S. military, now a model equal-opportunity employer, finally responded to persistent criticism that it had consistently squelched recommendations for high medal awards to minority soldiers who served during World War II and the Korean War.

In 1996, the Pentagon belatedly awarded Medals of Honor to 21 Japanese American and other Asian American veterans, and eight to former African American servicemen, who were institutionally segregated during World War II.

In 2001, Congress passed a bill providing for a review of selected Jewish veterans, known as the Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act. Kravitz, the uncle and namesake of rock musician Lenny Kravitz, was killed manning his lone machine gun against attacking Chinese troops during the Korean War, allowing the rest of his platoon to retreat in safety.

Years ago, Kravitz was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but the award was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest decoration.

Under the terms of the Kravitz Act, a list containing the names and wartime records of 138 Jewish veterans was sent to the Pentagon. All the men listed had received the Service Cross from one of the military branches. The exception was Rubin, though his file was the thickest of all.

There's still work to do in reviewing such records. Last week, following receipt of a request for information, U.S. Army spokeswoman Maj. Elizabeth Robbins said that the Army had contracted with the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress for a three-year review of the records of the Jewish servicemen on the list, and for a similar review of Latino American veterans. Robbins said she expected a report on the results later this year.

Still, there was no doubt about Rubin or any need to make him wait any longer. He becomes the 15th Jewish recipient of the Medal of Honor since it was instituted during the Civil War by an act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, according to archivist Pamela Elbe of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History.

His first notice of the award came on July 27, when a White House aide called the house in Garden Grove early in the morning and asked for Rubin. His wife said that he was still asleep, but woke him at the caller's insistence.

“The man said that President Bush had just signed the order for my Medal of Honor,” Rubin recalled. “I was thinking, 'b——-' and went back to sleep.”

A little while later, the aide called again to ask what date would be convenient for Rubin to meet with the president. Gradually, Rubin started to believe.

“It would have been nice if they had given me the medal when I was a young, handsome man,” Rubin mused. “It would have opened a lot of doors.”

Nevertheless, ex-Cpl. Rubin is deeply impressed that high brass now must, according to military protocol, address him as “mister” or “sir,” and that he will have an escort of a major and a master sergeant on his way to Washington.

Furthermore, when he wears his medal, tradition requires that even five-star generals salute him and that the president of the United States stand when Rubin enters a room.

He is bound to get a lot of salutes at the White House, and later that day in a ceremony at the Pentagon, hosted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Rubin is allowed to invite 200 guests for the White House ceremony, and among them will be the survivors of his old company and their families. There will also be relatives, but Rubin doubts that his cousins in Israel will be able to make it.

Although he usually says what's on his mind, Rubin promises to be on his best behavior at the White House and Pentagon: “My wife told me to be very humble, very nice.”

When Rubin was interviewed three years ago, he told this reporter, “I want this recognition for my Jewish brothers and sisters. I want the goyim to know that there were Jews over there, that there was a little greenhorn, a little shmuck from Hungary, who fought for their beloved country.”

Times have changed.

“Now,” said Rubin with a self-deprecating laugh, “It's Mister Shmuck, the hero.”

 

Rolls of Veterans Groups Dwindling


Seymour Goldman spent World War II with an Army cleanup crew handling mustard gas drums in India.

“It was a terrible job,” said the 83-year-old, a retired TV repairman who lives in Culver City. “When I got out, I just didn’t want anything more to do with it.”

For Goldman and millions of other veterans — Jews and non-Jews alike — service in World War II was not a grand struggle, but exhaustive work.

Of the estimated 12 million to 13 million American men and women in uniform during World War II, only 1 million to 2 million of them saw actual combat. While Thursday’s Veterans Day services brought out many veterans who have vivid memories of fighting the Nazis, scores of veterans served in support positions, which left them with little interest in remembrance or nostalgia.

“I had no illusions about action. We were quartered in mansions,” said the Brooklyn-bred Goldman, whose unit was composed of himself, another Jewish soldier and 26 non-Jews, all from Texas.

The paucity of Jews serving on front lines may explain the dwindling numbers of members belonging to Jewish war veteran organizations.

Other reasons for the fewer members in the organization include the graying of the membership, and the fewer younger Jews serving in the military — and therefore joining — local Jewish veterans groups.

The San Fernando Valley’s Jewish War Veterans Post 603 has 325 members, but that is a decline over the past decade. The post is part of California’s 20,000 members who make up the Jewish War Veterans 110,000-member national roster, once dominated by World War II veterans.

Navy veteran Si Prussin, 81, spent most of the war in San Diego, waiting to be shipped out as a motor machinist on a landing craft.

“I wouldn’t have avoided going into the service; there was a feeling that it was an important and useful thing to do,” said Prussin, who later used the G.I. Bill to go to college

Prussin, raised in the Bronx, received an advanced degree from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University. He has had a long career in metallurgy and semiconductor engineering and still teaches electrical engineering at UCLA.

He briefly joined a veterans group for a short time, but then dropped out. “It was not my atmosphere,” he told The Journal.

Prussin and other Jewish veterans who did not see combat said they didn’t need to belong to veterans groups, with Prussin noting that no combat means no nightmares.

Yiddish translator Hershel Hartman, 75, also didn’t serve on the front lines in the Korean War — but not by choice. The Army kept him at New Jersey’s Ft. Dix for 15 months, because he was considered a security risk due to his memberships in left-wing, communist-allied groups.

“I refused to sign the loyalty oath,” said Hartman, who was trained at an Army radio school but never was sent to Korea while he and his family were being investigated.

What Hartman remembers most of his service is not combat but tragedy. With Ft. Dix being close enough to New York, Hartman traveled to Manhattan for a rally on the day in 1954 that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as Soviet spies. “I remember that day very well.”

There are other Jewish veterans who saw terrible events, and do participate in Veterans groups. But Jewish veterans from World War II and Korea are aging and their memories are slipping, which is why it’s important to the groups to attract younger members.

At 32, U.S. Army Capt. David Sellen is the youngest member of Jewish War Veterans Post 603. The Valley Glen resident was an infantry officer in Afghanistan and now serves as a civil defense operations officer at Missouri’s Ft. Leonard Wood.

“I think the next guy is in his early 60s or late 50s,” said Sellen, whose mother is a nursery school teacher at Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom. “There are more Jewish soldiers at least known today, and so I think more of it has to do with getting the word out. I didn’t know it existed.”

Why don’t younger Jewish war veterans join organizations?

“They don’t have the time to get into organizations,” he said. “They save most of the [free] time for their families.”

Saluting Jewish World War II Vets


When Jules Berlinsky took basic training in the South during World War II, his commanding officer said to him, “You don’t look Jewish. You don’t have horns.”

“He was serious,” said Berlinsky, 92, who was in the Army’s Spearhead Division. “He was on the ignorant side. He didn’t heckle us too much but he just let us know that we were different from him.”

Berlinsky is one of the 31 war veterans who reside at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), and will be honored on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s Wells Fargo Walk of Ages IV fundraiser.

Dec. 7 is also Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a date that — in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words — “will live in infamy,” when, in 1941, the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, hurling the United States into the war.

Approximately 550,000 Jewish Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, about 4.23 percent of the total number of troops. Both Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur praised their bravery specifically. During the war, 52,000 Jewish soldiers received an award or decoration of some kind and 11,000 were killed.

Now, close to 60 years after World War II, veterans of the conflict have aged and their numbers are dwindling, but despite current ambivalence toward American war-like nature, America’s participation in World War II and relative success in making the world “safe for democracy” is never questioned.

“Since it was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we felt that doing this [honoring the veterans] would be fantastic,” said Shelly Markman, the Walk’s chair. “We opened it up not only to Jewish war veterans but to all war veterans. These people have given us freedom and the opportunity to make a living and raise a family and I think we should be thankful to them.”

At the JHA, a group of eight veterans (seven men, one woman), gathered to talk to The Journal about their experiences of being Jewish and in the armed forces during World War II. Several use walkers or canes; their speech, though sharp, is slow. They take out photographs of themselves in uniform looking young and handsome, confident and strong. One rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo that a native etched on his skin with a palm frond and soot on a Pacific island during the war.

“Do you remember your serial number?” they ask each other. “Do you remember your rifle number? Do you remember that cigarettes cost us $2 a carton but we would sell them for $15?”

With time’s erosion of memory, their war experiences become reductive; a list of places stationed, and certain important events. But their recollection of being Jewish in the service — and the prejudice, ignorance, and the sense of being different that accompanied that — remains strong.

“I was in a battalion of 1,200 men,” said Ellis Simon, 80, who was in the Marines. “And there were two Jews, but we weren’t that friendly with each other. The other guy — his name was Hochberg, and he was a wuss. He got picked on mainly because he was a Jew. I wore a Jewish star, but I never had any trouble because I was a tough kid and I wouldn’t stand for that. One of the soldiers called me ‘Dirty Jew’ and I fought him.”

Berlinsky remembers a time when there was “a rumpus” in the chow hall.

“I got up to see what was wrong and this young Jewish guy from Brooklyn called Marty Cohen said ‘they’re trying to kill me. They are putting bacon in with the eggs there!,'” Berlinsky said. “I said ‘Marty, they’re not trying to kill you.’ This same fellow Marty had two twin sisters who would visit the camp and bring us salami and herring. It smelled so beautiful to us, but for those who were non-Jewish, it was a terrible smell. They couldn’t stand it.”

For Josie Joffe, the Army bought out strengths she never knew she had. “I became a sergeant major through no fault of my own,” she said. “I was a very quiet person and they had to teach me to shout commands. We used to take part in parades to welcome the troops and we would tend to wounded British pilots at a rest homes. We were a whole Jewish group and one day we heard one of the soldiers remark about the ‘bloody Jews’ so we never went back after that.”

Now of course, World War II and the struggle to liberate Europe and defeat Japan seem light years away and condensed into roundtable anecdotes, but for these men and women the armed forces experience doesn’t disappear.

Said Simon, “Once a marine always a marine.”

The Walk will take place on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s
Eisenberg Village Campus at 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. Registration begins at
7 a.m.; walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Comedian Don Rickles will serve as honorary
chair of the Walk. For more information, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org .

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